Dr. S. Lewis Johnson provides commentary on the actual beginning of the church.
[Prayer] Heavenly Father, we again ask Thy blessing upon us, as we study together. We thank Thee and praise Thee for the word of God and for the way in which it has ministered to us. And we thank Thee for the great promises of the Scriptures, with regard to the fruitfulness of the word of God in the lives of those who read it and ponder it. May it be, Lord, as our Lord Himself affirmed, the food of which we partake. Deliver us from feeding upon the materialism of the world and the aims and goals of life that the world has. Help us to order our lives by Thy word. We ask Thy blessing upon us, as we study in this hour. May each one of be strengthened and built up in our faith and encouraged in all of the experiences of life by the realities of the things of which the Bible speaks. We commit this hour to Thee.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
[Message] Now, the subject that we are looking at tonight and, the Lord willing, next Wednesday night is the “Inception and Departure of the Church,” but it is part of our study of the “Structure of Dispensational Theology,” and we are dealing with the distinctive features of dispensational theology. We’re not trying to teach dispensational theology, per se, although of course there are a number of things about it with which I would agree. But, what we’re really trying to do, still, is to set forth what they say about their own kind of theology. And tonight, this is in your outline, lessons 13 and 14? I don’t have one before me and I’ve forgotten if it was 14, 15, or 13 and 14? But, tonight, we will look at this and finish it up next week, the Lord willing.
So the Structure of Dispensational Theology #6, The Distinctive Features #5, the Inception and Departure of the Church. Of course, as you can tell from this title, characteristic of dispensational theology is a certain view concerning the beginning of the church and generally speak a certain view concerning the conclusion of the church’s presence on the earth.
But, first, we begin with a few words by way of introduction. The time of the inception of the church is a matter of discussion, which has particular reference to covenant theologians, dispensationalists and ultra-dispensationalists. For example, covenant theologians generally think of the church as beginning with Adam; occasionally Abraham, and as consisting of the whole number of the elect of the past, present, and future. Almost all covenant theologians would affirm that the church began with Adam and includes all believers in Jesus Christ.
Ultra-dispensationalists take the other and an extreme dispensational position; they begin the church at various points in the Book of Acts, apart from Acts chapter 2, and the Day of Pentecost. Most commonly, they begin with the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Occasionally, ultra-dispensational people will speak of more than one church. They will sometimes use the term “Jewish church” and then “Gentile church” and, perhaps, the majority of ultra-dispensationalists begin the church with the ministry of the Apostle Paul and regard the church as we know it today as having its beginning in his ministry. And, particularly, in the unfolding of the mystery that Paul was introduced to. So that extreme is an extreme of people who generally hold to dispensational theology.
In fact, one of the leaders in that movement was a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and a close friend of Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer. And he has written a Systematic Theology, from the ultra-dispensational viewpoint.
Dispensationalists, however, and I’m using that term as over against ultra-dispensationalists on the right and covenant theologians on the left, with no political significance, dispensationalists begin the church on the Day of Pentecost. Dispensationalists are prone to weakening the unity of all of the elect by their insistence of a distinction between the church and Israel. For example, some leading dispensationalists have said that the church and Israel have different new covenants, different promises, and a different destiny. In fact, Dr. Chafer, himself, used to speak of “two new covenants.” One new covenant for the nation Israel; one new covenant for the church. And, certain members of the faculty of Dallas Seminary followed Dr. Chafer in this. Dr. Charles Ryrie, in one of his early books subscribes to that general theory. Later on, I think Dr. Ryrie abandoned that particular viewpoint but some still hold to that particular idea. So characteristic of the desire to be careful and distinguish the church and Israel is the human frailty of going to a bit of extreme to which we are all prone, but they are prone to a weakening of the unity of all the elect by their insistence on that distinction.
Some usually deny that there is just one people of God. Now, to my mind, that’s a mistake. The Scriptures do speak of one people of God; but within this one people of God, the Scriptures do make the distinction, the ethnic distinction, between Israel and the Gentiles. And one reading the Apostle Paul, particularly, one who you would think would have the clearest of views concerning the relationship of church and Israel is very careful to make those distinctions between Israel and the Gentiles. So that distinction is a proper distinction to make. But that distinction is, as the apostle makes very plain, a distinction within the one people of God. And, so far as I can tell, he never subscribes to the idea of two peoples of God. So, to my mind, that’s a mistake.
There are important bonds between Israel and the church, and we should in our belief that the term Israel is not to be identified with Gentiles in our desire to be sure and make that distinction, we should not forget that there are important bonds and connections between Israel and the church. Both Israel and the church are related to the one savior and Lord, via his saving covenant and ministry. And, too, the church originated, remember, in the remnant of Israel. On the Day of Pentecost, the great mass of those who formed the church, through the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit or of our Lord, we’ll discuss that a bit later, the great mass of those people there were Jewish believers. So the church began as a Jewish church, ethnically. So we should not forget that.
Further, we should remember that the term “church” is a term that was used in the Old Testament Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. And, in the fact that Israel was called an “ecclesia” in the Septuagint translation, you can see some of the close connection between the people of God, as they are described in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament. So Israel was an assembly or a church of God; just as today, what we know as the church of God is an assembly, or church of God.
Essentially, the New Testament church was initially then a group separated from the Old Testament assembly of Israel by the removal of the unbelieving mass of Israel. One reading Romans 11, which we’ve said so many times is so important for understanding this, can see that the way in which the church begins is as a believing Israelite-ish remnant. And the great mass of the unbelieving of Israel are those that are cut off, as Paul points out in that chapter.
The Gentile character of the people of God, or of the church, is the intended historical development from this. In other words, as the Gospel goes out, in accordance with God’s intentions, set forth in a brief way in the Old Testament but made plain by the historical development as set out in the Book of Acts; it’s obvious that God intended that through the Apostle Paul and others associated with him in the ministry of their time, the Gospel would go out to the Gentile nations because of the rejection of the word of God by the mass of Israel. But, never forget, that fundamentally right at the beginning the church was a Jewish Church. And, for a long time, a large element of the church was Jewish and the Gentiles were pouring into the church and it was not long, of course, before the Gentiles came into the majority and that’s the story of the church today. And so, Paul can, when he writes the Epistle to the Romans, speak of a remnant of Israel, according to the election of grace in the church.
What then is the precise force of Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:15, where he says that “Christ has made in Himself of the two one new man.” Now that tells us, right at the beginning, that the church as the apostle conceives it in his day, is something new. He calls it, “One new man.” And, further, he uses the term “created.” So through the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in this age, there has been created one new man. Therefore, one of the questions that we’ll discuss, we won’t get to it tonight, but next week we will, is in what sense is there continuity and in what sense is there discontinuity between Israel and the church? Tonight, we want to lay stress on the inception of the church. And so we will look at the inception of the church now. And, capital A in our outline, after roman I, The Inception of the Church: The time of its birth.
Now, it’s getting a little warm, so I’m apologizing to you that I’ll have to take off my coat. That’s really rather, rather ungentlemanly to do that, in a meeting, but tonight it’s necessary.
So we turn to consider the time of the birth of the church, or the new face of the people of God, called now “the assembly,” the church. We assume, of course, the two-fold character of the church, as both a universal body of believers, scattered all over the face of the globe, and, also, the sense of a local church as a church that meets regularly in one particular geographical location.
The church, the local church, is a body of professing believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, who meet regularly in one locality for the observance of the ordinances, for the ministry of the word of God, under the discipline of elders and ideally with a body known as deacons, as well. So that’s what a local church is. But we’re going to talk primarily now about the universal church, composed of all who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. Fortunately, for our purposes, a covenant theologian or a dispensational theologian, they would both agree on the definitions of the universal church and the local church in this present day.
Now, we assume these things then in what follows. What I have set out for you in our outline is seven steps in proof of the fact that a significant change took place, in the character of the people of God on the Day of Pentecost. In other words, it was here that God, through the Holy Spirit, created one new man. Now, we will, when we come to continuity and discontinuity, we’ll talk specifically about the ways in which things continued the same; and the ways in which things didn’t continue the same. But, now, we’re going to talk about why the church began on the Day of Pentecost.
Now, I happen to agree with this, and so though I’m setting forth this as the dispensational position, you may get the idea that I agree with them on this point. And you’d be getting the right idea. I do agree with them on this point. I do think that the church began in this particular sense in which we are to understand that term, on the Day of Pentecost.
The first thing that we need to do is read Ephesians 1:22 and 23, because here we have the church defined. The apostle, in Ephesians 1:22 and 23, says that “He Hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.”
Now, you can see from this simple statement that the Apostle Paul affirms that the church, the assembly, this one new man, is the body of Christ. As a matter of fact, there are other ways in which we can describe the church. In fact, there are books written on the terms that are used to describe the church. But, probably, Paul’s maturest reflection upon the church is represented by the expression “the Body of Christ.” So the church then is the Body of Christ. Now, the church is other things but this is the important thing for us. So, point 1: The church is the Body of Christ.
Point 2: The church is entered by spiritual baptism. Now, I’ve worded that in a particular way for a particular reason, and I’ll try to explain why I worded that, “The church is entered by spiritual baptism” rather than “By the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” And, I’ll explain here, now, why that’s the way in which I worded that heading. Let’s read first, though, 1 Corinthians 12:12 and 13. Now, I’m reading from the Authorized Version.
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all been made to drink in one Spirit.”
Now, that’s the text that we have before us. And, I say, I have put this as spiritual baptism, since there is a legitimate exegetical question over who performs this baptism. Now, looking at the original text, as I’m looking at it right now, verse 13 says, “For indeed in one Spirit we all were baptized into one body.” Now, it so happens that that expression “in one Spirit” can be rendered, “by one Spirit.” But it also can be rendered, “in one Spirit.” If we render it, “in one Spirit,” then we are talking about the sphere of this work of baptism. If we render it “by” then we are talking about the means by which it is accomplished. So, you can see, it makes a little difference whether we render it “by one Spirit we were baptized into one body,” in which case it would seem to be a clear reference to the Holy Spirit. And, also, as the one who is the means by which this is accomplished. Or, if we render it, “in one Spirit,” then it’s possible for the person who performs the baptism to be someone other than the Spirit and the spirit being the sphere in which this work is accomplished.
Now, when we go back in the beginning of these promises, concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we notice that in the earliest stages of this, in our Lord’s ministry, when this particular operation was prophesied, then it, in the context of most of these references is a work that Jesus Christ will perform. Listen to Matthew chapter 3, in verse 11, for example. John the Baptist is speaking and he says, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. But he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire.” And then, even in Acts chapter 1, verses 4 and 5, just before the time of that which happens on the Day of Pentecost, the Lord Jesus links what is going to happen with what John prophesied. In Acts 1:4 and 5, a passage we’ll look at again later in another connection, we read.
“And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”
So putting all of this together, it’s entirely possible for us to say that the one who does the baptizing is the Lord Jesus Christ. And he does this in the sphere of the Holy Spirit or even by the means of the Holy Spirit. So I say, the church is entered by the spiritual baptism, and we’ll leave it at that, because, fortunately, for our purposes it doesn’t really make any ultimate difference. It’s just the way in which we might refer to it. Personally, I think it is the Lord who performs the work of baptizing individuals into His Body, in the power or through or in the sphere of the Holy Spirit.
Now, there are a couple of things that are important here; and we don’t want to pass them by without saying something about them. Notice that the act of the baptizing ministry of the Lord in the Spirit or by the Spirit, took place as an event in the past. In other words, that means that when a person believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, he has been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ. The work of the baptizing of an individual into the Body of Christ is something that takes place at his spiritual birth. It’s not something we seek in the future, for the Corinthians that was an event in the past. For, by one Spirit, so this text says, “we have all been baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles.” So to say that an individual should have the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit after he has believed in Christ is to go contrary to the teaching of the word of God. And it doesn’t make a bit of difference who says it. It is contrary to the teaching of Holy Scripture. It’s very important for us to bear this in mind because it is a characteristic charismatic doctrine that we are to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit after we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, the apostle says, and this, I think, is practically as important as that. He says, “For by one Spirit have we all been baptized into one body.” Now, why didn’t the apostle write the Letter to the Corinthians. Well, he tells us as he writes it. He says, “Corinth was filled with a lot of spiritual problems.” They had people who were puffed up. They had people who had marital problems. They had people who were disorderly at the Lord’s Table. They had people who were disorderly in the meetings of the church, and were not carrying out the original prescriptions for such a meeting. Women were standing up and speaking in the church, when they should, Paul had said, “been quiet.” Furthermore, they were wrong or many of them had problems concerning the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. They had men who, actually, were guilty of incest in their meetings, and they were doing nothing about it. So here is a church in which sin was rampant of various kinds both theological and moral. And yet, he says, “we have all been baptized into the one body.” So you can see from this, that the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit is not that by which we which gauge spiritual life. Everybody who believes in Christ is baptized into the Body of Christ. It’s not something to be sought. It’s not a gauge of a person’s spiritual life as a Christian. It is, however, a test of one’s faith in Christ. Paul says, “He that hath not the Spirit of Christ is none of His.” So that’s a very important passage. And, I think, it’s very important, so far as when the church began, too, because it’s clear that the way we get into the church is by the baptizing ministry of the Lord Jesus, in the Spirit. And if we have not experienced that we are not in the church; that is, the universal church of Jesus Christ. So the church is the Body of Christ. It’s entered through this spiritual baptism.
Now, let’s go back to Matthew chapter 16 in verse 18, with those fundamental facts in our minds. In Matthew chapter 16 in verse 18, we read these words. These are words we all are familiar with. The Lord Jesus is near the end of his earthly ministry and he with the apostles and disciples have withdrawn to begin the teaching ministry that will prepare them for the future. He’s near Caesarea Philippi, and so he asks them in verse 15, or verse 13, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” And not surprisingly there are all kinds of ideas about who Jesus Christ is. Some of them say, John the Baptist, some Elijah, some Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. In other words, it’s almost as if all of the characteristics of the great men of the past find their culmination in the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s as if all the streams of the United States, the eastern part of the United States, ultimately, flow into the Mississippi River. So in the case of the Lord Jesus Christ, he is the one who is seen in part in all of the men of God, but finds in himself a culmination of all of those manifestations of God in those men. So there was a way in which he was like Elijah. There is a way in which he was like Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. And there was a way in which he was like other prophets of the Old Testament. But, the Lord being the kind of preacher that he is said with reference to them, “But whom say ye that I am?” And Peter answers, “Blessed art thou.” Or he answers, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus replies, and says, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” So the third point and we want to note, the church was future from the time of the Lord’s pre-cross ministry.
Now, that would be evident if we just looked at the tense of the verb. He says, “I will build my church.” Now, if he were of the mind that the church had already been brought into existence and was being built, then there was a very easy way for him to express that. He could say, “I am building my church.” But he doesn’t say that. He says, “I will build my church.”
Furthermore, this particular tense is, characteristically, a tense that looks at action as an event. Now, you cannot prove that it’s an event by that fact, but that’s its tendency. And so the fact that it is this particular tense and one that refers to the future is evidence, strong evidence, that the church is future from the time of our Lord’s earthly ministry. So he says, he will found the church in the future.
Now, as you know, I like Professor Burkhof’s “Systematic Theology.” It’s one of the best. Everybody ought to get it, put it in the library, and read it. But test it by the word of God. Professor Burkhof was just an ordinary fellow, just like me. And I know that some of you think I’m wrong on one point; if we got it all together, we’d probably find, well, there are about fifty people here, I guess you’d probably find fifty points on which I’m wrong, because all of you would know at least one. Well Professor Burkhof is just a professor, too. And he says, “Jesus on the one hand said that he would found the church in the future: Matthew 16:18.” He can read. But also recognized it as an already existing institution, Matthew 18:17. Now, let’s turn over to verse 17 of Matthew 18, because he does refer to the church here. And, in fact, this is the only verse in the four gospels where the church is referred to again. It’s referred to twice in this one text. So, the term “church” is only referred to three times in the first four gospels. That’s rather important, too, because the gospels record our Lord’s ministry, pre-cross, primarily. Verse 17 says, “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” Now, we don’t have time to do the exegesis of all of this passage, but it’s very plain. And, Professor Burkhof would agree with this, particularly, now, cause he’s in heaven. But he would agree with this, even if he were living, that this is a text that has to do with discipline in the church. That’s very plain.
Now, I ask you, Professor Burkhof has said, “Jesus on the one hand said he would found the church in the future; but he also recognized it as an already existing institution.” Now, you don’t have to be much of a logician, you don’t have to be a logician like Mr. Prier to understand that that’s a contradiction in terms. You cannot say he will found the church in the future, if it is already existing. That’s a very simple contradiction in terms. But, aside from that, I wish I knew how he would answer that question. I’ve never seen anyone really answer it in plain language. But aside from that, let me ask you a simple question, Is it not better to interpret a later reference to an item like “church” in this instance, by the previous reference rather than to seek some new meaning for it?
Now, if that’s so and, I think, it’s a legitimate hermeneutical principle; if it is legitimate for us to interpret chapter 16, by chapter 18, and the further information that is given of the church there, then the simple meaning is that the church is, as Professor Burkhof said, to be founded in the future. But in the life of the church in the future, there will be the necessity for discipline. And chapter 18, gives those men guidance with regard to discipline in the church that will come into existence in the future. In that way, we’ll harmonize the two passages very simply and we don’t have an innate contradiction in terms. He will found it in the future, but it’s already founded.
Furthermore, to further substantiate that, John the Baptist, in chapter 3, of this book, let’s us know that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a future thing, too. So we have not only these two passages, but we have John the Baptist telling us in the 3rd chapter that the baptizing ministry by which one enters the church is, itself, a future thing.
You know, it’s sad to me that you have to labor points like this because it’s so obvious to most people who will put the text before them and take a look at it. So the church was future from the time of our Lord’s pre-cross ministry, Matthew 16:18.
Fourth step: The church was future from the Lord’s pre-ascension ministry. Acts chapter 1, verse 4 and verse 5. Acts 1, verse 4 and 5, reads like this. It’s the passage we looked at a moment ago in another connection.
Now, remember, the Lord Jesus has experienced his death, his burial, his resurrection. He has not yet ascended to the heavens. He’s teaching the apostles things concerning the Kingdom of God. And they are asking a lot of questions that they would like answered, like “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” And our Lord doesn’t say he’s not going to do that. He just says, “It’s not for you to know the times of the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. Your job is to receive the Holy Spirit and carry out the witnessing ministry.” But, previous to that, in verse 4, we read, “And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.” The Lord Jesus had already told them that they should wait until the Holy Spirit came. “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”
Now, it’s clear if one enters the church by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the church hasn’t come into existence yet, because the baptism of the Holy Spirit has not yet taken place. That’s very simple, isn’t it? Well, it’s clear to me. I hope it’s clear to you. It ought to be. So number 5: The Church was born on the Day of Pentecost. So let’s look over a page or two to chapter 2, and let’s read verse 1 through verse 4.
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.”
By the way, you’ll notice this took place on the Day of Pentecost. That was a particular time, a feast day, reading the Old Testament and thinking of the redemptive program, one might even have surmised that on this day the Holy Spirit would come. And if you read Leviticus, you would have further support for that. The reason I stress this is because this coming of the Holy Spirit is a once and for all event; just like the Cross. So verse 4.
“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Now, I say the church was born on the Day of Pentecost. The historical event of the giving of the Spirit takes place at this time. It had been promised in connection with the Abrahamic blessing. That’s evident from Galatians 3, in verse 14, because Paul there says that the indwelling Holy Spirit is part of the Abrahamic covenantal blessing. Read it. From Acts 1:5, we could be reasonably sure that Pentecost is the day of the baptism of the Spirit because Jesus modified John’s statement concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit by the addition of the words “not many days hence.” Look back at verse 5, “For John truly baptized with water;” This is chapter 1. “But ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit, not many days hence.” John didn’t say that. Our Lord added those words to John’s prophecy. It’s soon to come.
Now, even if we didn’t know anything more than that, we would know that there isn’t any event in the earlier part of the Book of Acts that qualifies for the place and the time when the Holy Spirit came and welded those individuals into one body other than this great Day of Pentecost. Not after many of these days, no other time in the account can really fulfill the requirements of these words.
It’s true, however, that the events of Acts 2, are not specifically related to the promise of the baptizing work of the Spirit. Did you notice that? Now if you were a good theologian, you would have been, say you were squirming, say you don’t agree with what I’m talking about. So you’d be squirming for an answer to my proof. So you would say to me, “But it doesn’t say they were baptized by the Holy Spirit, it says they were “filled” with the Holy Spirit.” So I would have to say, “You’re right. That’s a good observation.” And I would refer back to Acts chapter 1 in verse 5, and I would say, however, that, “The Lord Jesus said that this baptism would take place not many days hence. Where would you like to put it?” [Laughter] Well, it would be impossible for you to answer my question, other than to say, “Well, it probably took place on the Day of Pentecost, because there isn’t any other suitable day for it to occur, so far as we know.” But still, the term “filled” is used; and filled is not the same as being “baptized with.” So we still have an element of doubt. Would we? Would we not? Well, yes we would. We’d have an element of doubt. Not much but a little bit. And in theological discussion people can lean a lot on a little twig, you know.
And so is there help somewhere else? And, I’d like to suggest in the sixth of these evidences in the beginning of the church on the Day of Pentecost that Acts chapter 11, verse 15 through verse 17, supplies some further information that, to my mind, settles the question. The background of this is the preaching of the Apostle Peter in Cornelius’ house. And you know the story of how, almost contrary to his desires, he was called to Cornelius’ house to preach the Gospel to Gentiles. And as Luke describes the event in Acts chapter 10, it was a magnificent occasion. Peter traveled all the way up, had plenty of time to get ready for the message, got into his introduction, made the mistake, that is, if he wanted to give all of his message of giving the Gospel in his introduction, and said in verse 43 of chapter 10, “To Him give all the prophets witness that through His Name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” And those people in Cornelius’ house were under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and his efficacious grace. And so when Peter gave the Gospel, while he was still speaking, he still had other things to say, he had three points to give. He hadn’t even said point one, or point two, or point three. “While he yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word and they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Spirit, as well as we?” They are already saved and so they are baptized in testimony to what has happened to them. “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.”
Well when the people in Jerusalem heard about this, they wanted to hear from Peter first hand. So Peter went up to Jerusalem, and while he was there he recounted what happened to him. And, finally, in verse 15, he comes to the key point in Jerusalem, and he says, “And as I began to speak.” Notice, he acknowledges he hadn’t gotten to his points. He said, “As I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.” Now, notice what he says, “Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.” He refers back to Acts chapter 1, verse 4 and 5; the words that Jesus had given to them.
And he said, “When that happened in Cornelius’ house, my mind went right back to that promise in Acts chapter 1, verses 4 and 5. But, notice, he talks about this as what happened to them at the beginning, verse15. “And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.” He refers back to the Day of Pentecost, and he said it was there that the baptism of the Holy Spirit, promised by John the Baptist, confirmed by our Lord in Acts 1, 4, and 5 took place. So he concludes: “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice, it’s “who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, the one human side of the condition for the reception of the Holy Spirit and the baptizing ministry, is faith alone. “Who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?” So as you can see then, when he says, “As on us at the beginning.” By the way, in the Greek text, it’s a little stronger. It’s “As also,” not simply “As on us,” but, “As also on us at the beginning.” Peter says, “What happened on the Day of Pentecost is that which fulfilled the promise that the Lord had given in Acts 1:4 and 5.” So we can say authoritatively on the basis of this text, the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit occurred first on the Day of Pentecost; and it’s by that ministry that we are united with the Body of Christ, and become a member of the church.
Now, finally, number 7: The church’s existence is documented shortly after Pentecost. Turn back to Acts chapter 2, in verse 47, just for a moment. If you’ll notice in the outline that I gave you, I have a little question mark after Acts 2:47, and the reason is simple. I’m going to read the Authorized Version, which many people are very familiar with. It reads, “Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Now, I think, of course, that Luke could have written that; but, in the original text, the chances are that the term ‘church’ is not really found. Some manuscripts have it; but some and, I think, to my mind the better ones do not. Our text reads, “Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding the ones being saved daily together.” So the term ‘church’ is not found in Acts chapter 2 in verse 47. The first occurrence of the word ‘church’ in the Book of Acts; the historical development of the people of God, on the earth, after our Lord’s ministry of death, burial and resurrection, and the coming of the Spirit, is Acts chapter 5 in verse 11. And here, Luke writes, “And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.” So there in Acts chapter 5, the first mention of the term ‘church,’ shortly after the events of the Day of Pentecost. And then, the term church constantly used through the Book of Acts and found, also, in the epistles, confirms the teaching, I think, of the New Testament, that the Church has its special beginning on the Day of Pentecost. Now, the people of God continue, but a special character is attached to the church from Pentecost on. And we’ll talk about that next time.
One practical question, perhaps, should be emphasized here, who added members to the church? Well, of course, if we read the word carefully, the one who added those to the church was the Lord Jesus Christ, himself. Only he can do that.
Now, let me quickly just say a word about the manner of the birth and the ultimate basis of the birth. I’m sure that you are already aware of what I would say with reference to these things. There’s one thing, from a general standpoint, which is emphasized by Luke’s account of the origin of the church; the church is the product of Christ’s work. It is not a work of man. That is very plain.
A second thing to notice is the conditions upon which one became a member of the church. They were two: First, one must have experienced the new birth. Those who were gathered at Pentecost, on that day when the Holy Spirit came as the gift from the Father, and bound that body of believers into one body, had believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. Take the apostles, who were there they had been told by the Lord Jesus, in the Upper Room, “Now you are clean, on account of the word that is spoken to you.” So they were already believers in Christ and being believers in Christ, then, of course, they qualify for membership in the church of Jesus Christ. Everybody in the church, as far as the universal church is concerned, is a believer in Christ. As far as the local church is concerned, only those should be recognized as members of the local church who are believers in Christ. We don’t yield to the kind of philosophy that, “Let’s bring them into the church and make them part of the church; and then, if they mingle with us, they’ll come to faith in Christ.” No. Well, if they mingle with you people, maybe they would become believers. But we don’t rest the future of the church on that kind of thing. As a matter of fact, if an unbeliever came into the midst of us, he could find something that would be an excuse for not believing in the life of every one of us. So those who form part of the church are to be believers in Christ.
They also entered the church through the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit. Well that’s what you’d expect. What did our Lord say, in the presence of the apostles at Caesarea Philippi? What did he say? He said, “I will build my church.” So the church is the product of Christ, and his ministry. “I will build my church.” We don’t build the church. I don’t build the church. You don’t build the church. Christ builds the church. We preach the word, for he tells us to preach the word. We witness. He tells us to witness. We pray, he calls upon us to pray. We seek to please him in our lives, because he calls upon us to do that. But he builds the church. The responsibility is the Lord God’s.
The ultimate basis of the birth, well, of course, the foundation of the church is Christ, himself. That’s made so plain by the Apostle Paul in passages like Ephesians chapter 2, verse 20 through 22. And in 1 Corinthians chapter 3 in verse 11, speaking of the local church in that particular context, it seems, he says, “There is one foundation and that one foundation is the Lord Jesus Christ.” From the practical standpoint, if a church is to be fruitful and useful to the Lord it must recognize the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, in Believers Chapel, I’m sorry, Howard, you’re not the head of the church. Jim you are not the head of the church. The elders are not the head of the church, the elders are under shepherd. And I, surely, am not the head of the church. I’m not even one of the elders. The head of the church is the Lord Jesus Christ. And, if, to bring it down to the level of all of us, if Believers Chapel is to be fruitful in its ministry, its elders, its deacons, its members must be in touch with the head, seeking guidance from him, seeking power from him, seeking to follow him in the directions that he gives in his word, and the indications of his will, in other ways. The church is the product of Christ. He builds it, and it’s his. And we are his witnesses, as we seek to carry out his work.
You can see from this, there is no place for egotism in the church of Christ. He’s the head, he’s doing the work. We’re just people helping out, and that’s all. As far as really doing anything is concerned, Paul said, “He wasn’t the secret to the fruitfulness.” he said Apollos was not. Peter was not. It was God who gave the increase. That’s another way of saying what our Lord said when He said, “I will build my church.”
So may God help us to keep these things in mind.
Well, now, we still have a question, in what way is the church new? And in what way is it a continuation of the people of God. And that I will try to answer, next week, the Lord willing.
Let’s close in a word of prayer.
[Prayer] Father, we are grateful to Thee for this great truth, that the Lord Jesus is building the church; that it’s His. O God, help us to be submissive to Him. Bless our elders, give them wisdom and guidance and direction. And, Lord, may we support them, by with them, looking to Thee, O God, work mightily in our midst and through us, for the exaltation of Thy name.
We pray, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.